Massacre Erba, experts: “Science denies Frigerio, false memory of Olindo”

This is what emerges in the defense consultations shared by the deputy prosecutor of Milan

Mario Frigerio, whose story first and the testimony in the courtroom then played an important role in the definitive sentence to life imprisonment of Olindo Romano and Rosa Bazzi for the Erba massacre, would not have been fit to give testimony. “From the new clinical data available today we know that he made his statements after the onset of major brain injuries” in particular “caused by carbon monoxide poisoning”. This is supported by the 12 university professors – internationally renowned experts in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and neurology – to whom the defense of the couple turned and whose conclusions, collected in two substantial consultations of almost a thousand pages and viewed by Adnkronos , are shared by the deputy prosecutor of Milan Cuno Tarfusser who has made a request for revision, now being examined by the top management of the Milanese prosecutor’s office.

Frigerio was seriously wounded in the throat and was saved only by chance, due to a malformation of the carotid artery, suffering permanent damage. The injuries and in particular the carbon monoxide poisoning “have led to the decay of important cognitive functionssuch as impairments in memory, recall and orientation ability”. The environmental interceptions in the hospital room “demonstrate that Frigerio’s cognitive structure was not compromised in the immediacy of the massacre, but worsened over time”. He was listened to with “interviewing techniques that we now know are censored for the examination of a vulnerable witness, as capable of altering memory and in conflict with internationally recognized best practices. Indeed, suggestive questions produce false memories, and these false memories increase a lot in the vulnerable witness”, like Frigerio. “We have counted a total of over three hundred questions not recommended by the guidelines because they are misleading“, as they are deemed suggestive or repeated.

The progression of the memory, which goes from an unknown face to that of the neighbor, “is a scientifically impossible phenomenon. Today we know that, scientifically speaking, the phenomenon of progressive disclosure does not exist called into question in the sentences to explain the change from the original unknown face to the highly familiar face of Olindo Romano. There is no possibility of voluntarily suppressing the automatic recognition of a familiar face”. In this sense, for the experts, the “only statement which from a scientific point of view is to be considered accurate (because it lacks suggestive questions) is the first December 15, 2006”, when he claims he was attacked by a stranger with olive skin.

Of the interceptions present in the trial file relating to the hearings of the investigators during their hospitalization, according to the experts appointed by the defence, “discrepancies” with respect to the official transcripts were found, the other interceptions (always in the hospital but without the presence of investigators) led brought to light “many new elements. In particular, it should be noted that Olindo Romano was not recognized until 2 January 2007, ie for almost 20 days. It should also be noted that around 60% of the audio recordings are missing“. The “false memory” is “fully” revealed during the hearing of February 26, 2008, during which “the lack of memories in the witness with reference to the hearings of December 15 and 20 is evident. The production of confabulations is also evident, a consequence of the suggestive questions put on a cognitively compromised witness. On this date, the consolidation of the false memory is also evident”.

In summary, “the brain injury made Frigerio a witness unfit to testify. The neurological symptoms following the assault, and in particular the carbon monoxide poisoning did not impact the recognition of familiar and unfamiliar faces in the appropriate context. On the evening of 11 December, if his attacker had been Olindo Romano, Mario Frigerio would therefore have recognized him immediatelywould have mentioned his name or would have spontaneously provided a description with characteristics not focused on the external details of the face, typical of the recognition of unknown subjects”. Witness statements after December 15 “are to be considered unsuitable as the result of hundreds of suggestive questions that we now know are capable of causing memory alterationsand which easily took root in the witness in a condition of psychic vulnerability” which led to the creation of a “false memory regarding Olindo Romano as aggressor“.

In this sense, the consultants believe that the new elements “available today on the basis of knowledge shared by the scientific community make it impossible to evaluate Mario Frigerio’s testimony as accurate and suitable, unless one is willing to accept the violation of scientific laws on the functioning of human memory”.